How Apple is betting that augmented reality is so much more than Pokemon Go

Apple CEO Tim Cook has very high hopes for augmented reality and Apple’s ARKit toolkit will make it easier for developers to write software for AR apps

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 09 September, 2017, 5:01pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 10 September, 2017, 8:29pm

Apple CEO Tim Cook has said he thinks of augmented reality as a “a big idea like the smartphone”, which should give you a sense of how important the iPhone maker thinks AR really is.

Analysts are expecting to hear big things about Apple’s plans for AR as it looks to the future – and a new generation of the iPhone. Ahead of Apple’s September 12 media event, here’s a look at AR and what it could mean for you.

What is augmented reality?

Augmented reality is the catch-all term for technology that blends digital objects with the physical world. Remember Pokemon Go? By looking through their phone’s camera, players are able to see the cartoonlike monsters in a real-world setting.

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AR is different from virtual reality, which relies on headsets to block out your perception of the world outside. With augmented reality, you rely on what your own senses perceive in the real world; it just has some extra enhancements.

Beyond Pokemon Go and other games, how is that useful?

Gaming may be the most obvious use, but there is plenty of potential for this technology through apps. It could solve a lot of the small, practical headaches we encounter from day to day.

For example, a mechanic could ask you to hold your phone up to your car so that the screen shows you step by step how to change the oil. Alternatively, you could have your favourite comedian perform stand-up in your living room rather than travelling to see them at some faraway venue.

What has Apple already announced around AR?

In June, Apple announced a tool kit for developers called ARKit, which makes it easier for software makers to create apps that use AR technology. Some examples include a prototype app from Ikea, which measures your room and figures out how its furniture will look inside. That should work better than furniture apps that use the camera to overlay a piece of furniture into a room but don’t scale it to fit the space.

Apps that use ARKit should work on the latest iPhones going back to the iPhone 6s.

What are we expecting from Apple next week on this front?

For one, iOS 11 should be out next week, meaning that nearly anyone with an iPhone will be able to try out AR apps right away.

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There are also reports that the camera array in the new iPhone will be depth-sensing – although Apple has not confirmed that. But if it is true, it means that the AR experience could be more accurate because the phone’s camera would have a very good sense of how objects fit in a room.